The Government remain committed to a role for the private sector in operating custodial services. The sector has an important role to play and currently runs some high-performing prisons as part of a decent and secure prison estate.
Publicly run HMP Bedford has been deprived of adequate funding, while public investment has been given to the notorious blacklisting construction firm Kier to build a new supersized prison nearby in Wellingborough, which will be handed straight to the private sector to run. Will the Minister explain why the public sector was banned from bidding for the new prison?
We believe in a balanced estate—the last prison built was HMP Berwyn, which is in the public sector—to maintain a mix of providers. We wanted to ensure that the next two were in the private sector.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the new Ministers on their appointment.
I am sure everyone across the House was deeply concerned by new research showing that, when comparing like with like, private male local prisons have 42% more assaults than their public equivalents. That is especially worrying given that the Government are planning to build a new generation of prisons run for profit. I am sure the Secretary of State would not wish to be deemed an ideologue who would back private prisons even if they were more dangerous. Before proceeding with those new private prisons, will he back an independent review of safety and overcrowding in private prisons to ensure that corners are not being cut to maximise profits?
The reality is that there are many very successful private prisons where the level of violence is lower than average. Let me give the hon. Gentleman an example. HMP Altcourse in Liverpool has low levels of violence compared with a typical category B local prison, including the public sector category B local prison in the same city where we have faced significant difficulties with violence. It is hard to compare one set of prisons against another on a like-for-like basis. I do not accept the analysis the hon. Gentleman sets out, and I do believe we need to have a mixed sector.